TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A lifelong interest in the "Star Wars" universe is paying off big for Zachary Titus.
The college sophomore from Traverse City — a member of the international "Star Wars" costuming organization 501st Legion — is headed for Walt Disney World Resort for a student internship in costume and prop production.
The six-month "live, learn and earn" program is "the longest possible internship you can get with them," said Titus, 20, whose rigorous application process included two written applications and phone and video interviews.
"I was trying to milk it for all it was worth."
A technical fabrication and design major at Western Michigan University, Titus said he'll help make props and costumes for everything from cast characters and parades to ride- and ethnic-related attractions. He'll also spend time "trooping" with the Florida Garrison of the 501st Legion, which makes regular weekend appearances at the resort's "Star Wars" attraction. He'll ship his $1,000 Stormtrooper costume to Orlando ahead of time.
Titus, a 2010 graduate of Traverse City Central High School, said he watched his first "Star Wars" episode on TV at age 3 or 4 and became increasingly interested in the film series phenomenon.
"I watched the whole series every year, read the books," he said. "It was the whole premise of the entire show: the unsung hero that becomes the key to saving the universe. It's a retelling of King Arthur."
He joined the Great Lakes Garrison of the 501st Legion at 18 and created his first costume — accurate down to the approved helmet style — from a kit.
"It was a large cardboard box filled with plastic pieces. My friends were like, 'Good luck with that,'" said Titus, who currently is working on a "Star Killer" costume from "The Force Unleashed," a "Star Wars" video game.
As the only Stormtrooper within 40 or 50 miles, Titus has taken part in 501st Legion appearances at everything from the local CherryT Ball Drop to Star Wars Night at the Detroit Tigers. He'll be in the thick of the action at this year's Star Wars convention in — you guessed it — Orlando.
Mike Karp, branding and merchandising officer for the 501st Legion in the U.S., believes Titus is the first Legion member to be hired by Disney.
"The fact that he's part of that probably didn't hurt his resume," said Karp, of Muskegon. "I'm thinking some of the things he picked up are attention to detail, accuracy — they want you to have that accuracy so it looks like you stepped out of the movie — and research. You can't just go to a store and buy one of these (costumes). You have to research."
Besides receiving on-the-job training and a small salary, Titus will attend classes and earn credits at the Disney College. He'll room in resort housing with students from London University and Bern University in Germany.
"Hopefully it's going to be my ticket to getting into a productions company," said Titus, whose Towering Productions company helps create costumes for comic conventions. "Most people who do this go into theater. I want to get into the film aspect of it, do film sets, film costumes."
Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, http://www.record-eagle.com